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Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk Paperback – August 31, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley (August 31, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471295639
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471295631
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (233 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

With the stock market breaking records almost daily, leaving longtime market analysts shaking their heads and revising their forecasts, a study of the concept of risk seems quite timely. Peter Bernstein has written a comprehensive history of man's efforts to understand risk and probability, beginning with early gamblers in ancient Greece, continuing through the 17th-century French mathematicians Pascal and Fermat and up to modern chaos theory. Along the way he demonstrates that understanding risk underlies everything from game theory to bridge-building to winemaking. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Risk management, which assumes that future risks can be understood, measured and to some extent predicted, is the focus of this solid, thoroughgoing history. Probability theory, pioneered by 17th-century French mathematicians Blaise Pascal and Pierre de Fermat, has made possible the design of great bridges, electric power utilities and insurance policies. The statistical sampling methods invented by dour Swiss scientist Jacob Bernoulli undergird diverse activities such as the testing of new drugs, stock-picking and wine tasting. Bernstein (Capital Ideas) animates his narrative with a colorful cast of risk-analyzers, including gambling addict Girolamo Cardano, 16th-century Italian physician to the Pope; and John Maynard Keynes, whose concerns over economic uncertainty compelled him to recommend an active, interventionist role for government. Bernstein also traces the development of business forecasting, game theory, insurance and derivatives, and surveys recent advances in risk forecasting made possible through chaos theory and by the development of neural networks.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Peter L. Bernstein's nine books include the worldwide bestseller Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk. Bernstein is also an economic consultant and publisher of Economics and Portfolio Strategy, a semimonthly letter for institutional investors.

Customer Reviews

In summary the book is deep, interesting and very well written.
Inon Zuckerman
My friends and colleagues have a hard time believing that one of the most entertaining books I have ever read is about risk management and probability.
mjmcc61
Bernstein is a good story teller who adeptly blends human faces and quantitative theories to tell the history of man's understanding of risk.
Sam Simpson IV

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

187 of 201 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 26, 1999
Format: Paperback
Against the Gods is an outstanding book about the evolution of risk and man's attempt to understand it. Bernstein begins with ancient times and traces the history of numbers and probability leading eventually to today's seemingly complex financial world of portfolio theory, derivatives, and risk management techniques. Readers will learn about revolutionary thinkers including John von Neumann (inventor of game theory), Isaac Newton, Harry Markowitz (grandfather of portfolio theory), and the late Fischer Black (Black Scholes option formula) among others. Readers will also find enlightening stories about game theory, fibonacci numbers, chaos theory, the bell curve, regression to the mean, and more. Yet despite all the intelligence, computer power, and sophisticated techniques, Bernstein presents us with the growing body of evidence discovered by researchers including the late Amos Tversky and others that "reveals repeated patterns of irrationality, inconsistency, and incompetence in the ways human beings arrive at decisions and choices when faced with uncertainty." Against the Gods was chosen as one of Business Week's top 10 books of the year for 1996.
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266 of 294 people found the following review helpful By Wayne A. Smith VINE VOICE on February 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
Bernstein has written a thorough book that traces the linear progression of man's understanding of probability and risk.
This is a journey that begins with the importatioin of the arabic numbering system to the West and ends with super-computer crunched chaos theory. In between lie the fathers (all men) of mathamatical understanding. These individuals are the story of AGAINST THE GODS. Bernstein survey's the intellectual contrubutions of each as man strives to understood basic probability, the law of large numbers, bell curves, regression analysis, uncertainty theory and everything else you dimly remember from college statistics classes. He spends the latter quarter of the book on risk and probability theory in the financial world, where theorists have developed portfolio analysis, volitility studies, hedging and sidebets and other quantatative market plays.
Credit to the author for balancing his story against the very high probability that much of what these thinkers sought may be unattainable. He frequently mentions the humanity that these people try to explain with laws formulated from observations in the natural world. Although rightly impressed with his intellectual frontiersmen, Bernstein has no problem recognizing that the uncertainty that has always eluded explanation is us and that it helps make life worth living and progress possible.
This book is interesting for what it is. A story of the development of theories. I would have enjoyed more of a focus on the applications of this intellectual progression that led to the development of insurance and financial markets. Though these elements are mentioned often, they provide the backdrop for Bernsteins survey of theory.
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107 of 117 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
The book is a reasonably interesting history of the mathematical analysis of risk. Bernstein discusses the development of probability and statistical analysis, and even some of the more modern concepts behind portfolio theory. However, I was disappointed overall. The cover and title misled me---I was hoping for a history of how the understanding of risk and the development of analytical tools led to the development of insurance markets, etc., and fundamentally changed how businesses operated in the face of uncertainty. When a shipper could insure his cargo, instead of just waiting for bad news, how did that change the world? I want to know! Instead, I got to read about who discovered the bell curve. I'm trained in a mathematical field, so I felt the discussion got a bit tedious.
I felt, overall, that the discussion was aimed more at explaining the math in layman's terms rather than exploring the impact of these developments on how people do business and make decisions.
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90 of 109 people found the following review helpful By J. G. Heiser on March 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
The book was interesting in several ways. The author's central idea, that having a mature concept of risk management is a prerequisite for modern civilization, is intriguing, yet not fully substantiated by his book. Having studied Finance in business school, it was interesting for me to learn a bit of the history behind contemporary thinking on financial risk management (in other words, he explains who figured out & popularized the alpha/beta thing).
Towards the end of the book, he just began to touch on some of the non-rational behavioral aspects of humans, and I wish he had gone deeper. Some of the most interesting work in economics is being done today with the radical assumption that human behavior is driven more by emotion than by reason. Why do people make ill-conceived decisions about risk? Not really answered in this book.
The book is almost totally oriented towards financial risk, and doesn't really look at other forms of risk management. Although the writing style is engaging--this is NOT dry--there are some structural problems. The author wanders around a bit, and sometimes introduces ideas or personalities without ever explaining why.
It is important to mention that this is treated as a 'story', from the historian's point of view, and not as a text book. In this way, it is true to its title. The book cover makes no claims for this as an intellectual or academic treatment of the subject, which makes this a very accessible book. It isn't profound, and it is only mildly informative, but outside of the minor annoyances of some outline weakness, I enjoyed reading it.
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